I was pretty excited when Hallmark created its own cable channel. I'm the sort of chick who guffaws at 1997-Hilary-Swank-MOWs on Lifetime and adores sweet TV movies like Sarah, Plain and Tall. So what's not to love about "very special" movie presentations and feature-film like production quality with a dose of easy-to-swallow family content? This time around, Hallmark tries to modernize a traditional fairy tale, The Snow Queen. You can see it for yourself on DVD thanks to Artisan Home Entertainment—but is it worth seeing?
Facts of the Case
In a charming winter town where people talk like Swedish Minnesotans, Gerda (Chelsea Hobbs, Pasadena) and her parents live a charmed life. One day, Gerda's mother leaves for a journey through the snowy woods, a journey that takes her life. Nine years later, Gerda's father Wolfgang (Robert Wilson, Harvey) is still in mourning, and the family hotel he runs is now cold and lifeless. Kai (Jeremy Guilbaut, Edgemont), the new bellboy, is the only spark in Gerda's life. But the Snow Queen (Bridget Fonda, A Simple Plan), whose cruel cold may have stolen the life of Gerda's mother, strikes again, stealing Kai away from Gerda. It's up to Gerda to rescue him from the clutches of the Queen.
Fairy tales lure adults and children alike with their whimsical disregard for reality, a perspective that works when done with a dark edge. The Snow Queen starts out with the death of the main character's mother and from there, things threaten to get darker. Kai becomes Gerda's best friend, and their relationship develops over ice skating lessons and kisses in the cold, despite her father's disapproval. When a shard of ice lands in his eye, Kai lashes out at Gerda, and once again, relationships fail her. Any kid who's been shuffled through foster families or lived in broken homes can surely relate, and it's these simple allegories for real life that make fairy tales so meaningful as entertainment.
However, as the film progresses, the darkness the draws you in starts to dissolve into anachronistic touches that deflate the story. The filmmakers kept the story in the Olde Worlde of horse-drawn carriages and real wood fireplaces in which many fairy tales live, but they gradually add 21st century vernacular and behavior to the mix. Obviously, this mismatch of atmosphere and dialogue doesn't work.
The Snow Queen, in the visage of a lovely and brittle Bridget Fonda, comes to take Kai away. He's lured to her snow castle, a version of Wolfgang's inn as covered in snow and icicles. Just knowing he's alive, Gerda sets off to find him. Once her journey begins, the film starts to fail. She runs into all the humanized seasons—the creepily possessive Spring Witch, the Autumn Robber. As she hits each one, the filmmakers seem to take more liberties with the script. For example, the Summer Princess (Kira Clavell) is played like a valley girl high-schooler. The Autumn scenes have a forced slapstick element to them, falling flat and failing where the original darkness of the story would have succeeded. At this point, the film gets tedious and you pretty much just wait for Gerda to rescue Kai.
I must say, however, Kai's scenes were the easiest to watch. Jeremy Guilbaut has a natural intensity and presence that has yet to be displayed on the big screen. I, for one, can't wait to see his mug at the movies—he's not just a pretty face, in fact, there are other young actors that are prettier—he has genuine character. And yes, he's cute. A little young for me to be drooling over, though this doesn't stop the filmmakers from getting Fonda to kiss him seductively at least twice, which is a little creepy since he seems about 15 years younger than she. Not that that's ever stopped me, but…anyways, back to the movie: His acting elevates the material. He even comes off more genuine than Fonda, who can sound forced at times (while she's probably thinking, "What the hell am I doing in a cable movie for Hallmark? I'm a FONDA, dammit!")
The art direction of The Snow Queen is phenomenal; it's a pretty picture to look at. The movie was indeed made to feature-film standards. The Snow Queen's habitat glows a cool blue, and the scenes in the fantastical worlds of the seasons are gorgeous. However, on the DVD itself, I saw lots of edge enhancement, especially in the lighter scenes, and this interfered a bit with the picture. Also, the cool blue scenes in the Queen's little palace strained the eyes a bit, but I don't see how that could have been avoided. The 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is excellent with solid colors and sharp black levels, making this is very fine transfer.
The 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround was excellent, a fully balanced and fleshed out sound design. However, you're not missing much by using the 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo mix either, except for certain scenes with lots of action (the Autumn Robbers create quite a ruckus, as do the Summer Princesses' minions). Overall, a nice balance here, where music and dialogue overshadowed neither.
This disc comes with a decent set of extras, though the "trailer gallery" advertised on the box is really a montage of scenes from Hallmark original movies. Not that these clips of films don't look outstanding—it's obvious Hallmark is hell-bent on making quality cable movies—but I thought I'd actually get to see trailers, not an ad for Hallmark.
I did enjoy the 10-minute Behind the Scenes extra, a full-screen presentation in which art directors, costume handlers and other magic-making folk are interviewed, as well as the actors. It rightly focused on the design of the set pieces and costumes, which give this feature its greatest artistic boost.
The photo gallery was nothing special, and very limited in covering all the varied scenes from the film. I coulda done without.
Hallmark spent a lotta money and a lotta time making a beautiful backdrop for an age-old fairy tale…but why did they have to ruin it with year-2000 dialogue? Tedious in the last half, adults and kids will be bored, but at least they'll have an eyeful of outstanding production design.
Pretty to look at, hard to sit through. I sentence The Snow Queen to two years in the Himalayas with the Abominable Snowman from Monsters Inc.. Maybe learn a little something about making a good family film…
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